On Wednesday night 4 January I didn’t sleep at all. Part of that was because the cat had found a creature it wanted to kill and woke me up around two minutes after I had dozed off. But, in all honesty I knew that I was never going to sleep. Why? Because for the second year in a row it was the night before matric results for one of my offspring. It wasn’t that I was worried that she wouldn’t pass or do so well. It was because I was having a crisis of motherhood. What if I had put too much pressure on her to get the marks she needed for a successful entrance to university?
What if my nagging and moaning about her not studying enough would scar her forever?
On the day, as with her two other siblings, it turned out that I needn’t have spent the night awake. She did so well that I had to sit down on a school bench and cry for a few moments... okay I lie, I started crying when we drove into the school to get the damn things. Crying at school events is one of the things I did do a lot of, according to my children.
Of course matric matters, and good marks are great, but I say this with the caveat that great results are the result of my children’s work – not mine. This is not false modesty, folks, it is the truth and I have polled this with the youngest offspring and her older sister.
It went something along these lines:
Me: Did I support you during matric?
Them: Not... really.
Me: But I made you healthy food?
Them: [shrieks of uncontrollable laughter, indecipherable snorting.]
Me: Did I create a peaceful space to study?
Them: Not really... you carried on being a drama queen.
Me: Nutritious snacks.
Them: Think you bought us a bag of chocolates when we started studying, but it was all chocolate! (Stern older daughter informs me sweet stuff is really bad when you are trying to study.)
Me: Did I do anything right?
Them [after a long thoughtful pause]: You made us independent and taught us how to find lifts to places...
Was I hurt by these comments? Not really. They are an accurate reflection of me being a single working mother of three children. And, if I am honest, a proponent of wolf parenting as opposed to helicopter parenting.
"Wolf parenting is my way of describing the kind of mom I am"
I raise my kids sort of hands off on the everyday stuff, but there for the stuff that counts. I practically gave up cooking regular meals when they were old enough to feed themselves (mostly they were grateful), but I did put the food in the fridge and the cupboard. I’ve never believed in fighting battles that I could equip them to fight, although if they had ever been the target of serious bullying or in danger I would and will still go to battle for them.
I watched them grow resilient and strong, and I taught them how to be part of the pack. It’s sort of the opposite of helicopter parenting because I don’t have a licence to fly choppers, but I do know how to listen and to laugh and to orchestrate from the back of the pack and let the kids grow up.
What I did do for them was what I am good at. I read to them from when they were little. I may have nagged, but I didn’t really need to – they had good planning and coping skills; learned probably to escape the whirlwind of chaos that I thrive in.
I still tickle the girls’ backs at night when they are home (not so much my 21-year-old son's, that would be a bit weird). I filled in forms, I applied for bursaries. I told them I was proud of them. I went to choir performances, because I was so proud they could sing. I cried at the performances which made them laugh at me. I prayed for them every single night (not sure if that worked but it made me feel good).
Matric matters because it opens doors to the next step. On the day we went to fetch the last school child’s marks ever I was gobsmacked by her brilliance. She fixed me with a gimlet eye and told me she had really wanted good ones to prove that she had had it under control when I was moaning about her having a life during matric.
Wolf parenting rocked for me, but it might not be for everyone. They know they have a mother who will only intervene when it is appropriate.
Matric is over, the next step starts. I think I am almost ready to allow them to see my school marks. I expect them to laugh a lot and mock me... which, you know, is fine. I hope I made them laugh. I know they know they are loved. I really hope they know – and that other kids know – that it isn’t the marks that matter or the accolades (if they come), it’s whether you are kind and do your best.
I hope they realise that sometimes we are all just making it up as we go along, and that that works quite well. That they know that I love them unconditionally and that pride doesn’t change love.
What is your parenting style? Can you relate to Jen's "wolf parenting"? Send your comments to email@example.com and we may publish them.